It has been carefully documented on this blog and on my own, that publishing houses often neglect to publicize the books that they have agreed to publish. It becomes pretty clear to an author that she is going to have to get out there and hustle if she wants her book to reach readers, reviewers, prize committees, etc. Many articles have been written by editors and publicists urging more authors to get out there and HUSTLE.
I’ve done it. I’ll admit it. Many authors of literary fiction feel demeaned by the dirty-hands work of hawking their book. And, though we seldom admit it, it is also pretty depressing work. Literary fiction does not exactly lend itself to the same techniques that work well for urban lit, romance, and mystery novels. One writer friend of mine told me of her dismay at sitting at a book festival next to a romance author who had brought along a troupe of bare-chested policemen to draw attention to her steamy novel. I, too, have appeared with an author of a salacious tale of “interracial sex, drug money, and senseless violence” while I was trying to get the same audience interested in my book about loss of innocence in Atlanta during its infamous child murders case. It was enough to make me want to go knock on J.D. Salinger’s door and see if he wanted a roommate.
But once I got over myself, I had to face the fact that I was going to have to play a role in the publicity plan for my second novel. The real question was what my role should be. Here are a few guidelines that have worked for me:
If you can afford it, hire an independent publicist. Don’t go into massive debt for it, but you should squirrel away some of your advance for this important project. Although I think of myself as having a lot of good ideas, I also have sense enough to know that I am not an expert in literary publicity. Also, keep in mind that reading series, book reviewers, etc., are often more comfortable dealing with an author’s representative rather than the author herself. (Here are some things to think about when hiring a publicist and here is a Q&A I did with Lauren Cerand, the publicist I ended up choosing.)
Do what you do best, WRITE. When my second novel was published, I wrote a few articles about the experience of writing and publishing, and also pieces connected to the themes of my books. Some were published on line and others in magazines. Many writers are more comfortable lounging at home in their pajamas than standing in front of large crowds, giving readings, etc. If this is you, that’s okay. Let your writing represent you. Everything helps when it comes to getting the word out.
Get good at reading from your work. I know I just said you could help yourself without facing a crowd, but you will have to venture outside from time to time. Bookstore readings are helpful even if you only read to an audience of six people. For one thing, those six folks may tell six other folks, but more importantly, the bookstore staff will hear you and their enthusiasm will linger well after you’ve gone back home to the comfort of your pajamas. My advice is to practice reading until you feel confident. You won’t be so nervous once you know what you’re doing.
Use the internet. Blogging is a terrific way to communicate with your readers without running all over the country. Many writers think they will not have time to blog, but once you get the hang of it, it only takes about three hours a week. Also, get familiar with the major lit-blogs and then decide which ones would be a good fit for your work.
Don’t overdo it. Once you start thinking of ways to publicize your book, you will realize that there is always something else to be done. There are always more postcards to mail, more hands to shake, more festivals to visit. Know when to back off. You don’t want your efforts to get the word out to compromise your ability to have a life. Don’t miss important milestones with your family because you were busy signing stock at a major bookstore. And always remember, you are a writer who is trying to publicize your book. You are not a motivational speaker who writes in between reading and speaking gigs (unless, of course, you are). Don’t ever lose that focus. Nothing will help your career more than finishing the next book.